Many diseases can be dangerous to a child but many can be prevented.
For that reason, health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Family Physicians and The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend children receive immunizations to protect them from diseases that could be serious or deadly.
When germs enter the body, the immune system recognizes them as foreign substances or antigens. “The immune system then produces the right antibodies to fight the antigens,” said Daniel Sutton, MD, family physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca. “Vaccines contain weakened or dead versions of the antigens that cause diseases. This means that the antigens cannot produce the signs or symptoms of the disease, but they do stimulate your child’s immune system to create antibodies. These antibodies help protect your child if they are exposed to the disease in the future.”
Many parents fear vaccinations will harm a child but, in truth, they are generally quite safe, said Dr. Sutton. “The protection provided by vaccines far outweighs the very small risk of serious problems,” he said. “Vaccines have made many serious childhood diseases rare today, though there have been resurgences in areas where immunization rates have fallen.”
Some vaccines may cause mild temporary side effects such as fever or soreness or a lump under the skin where the shot was given. Talk with a family doctor about reasons a child should not be vaccinated, such as illnesses. Do not be afraid to ask questions and voice concerns about the vaccines below, which are recommended before the age of 2.
DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis): The DTaP vaccine is three vaccines in one shot, protecting the child against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. It is given in a series of five shots. Diphtheria is a disease that attacks the throat and heart and can lead to heart failure and death. Tetanus is also called “lockjaw” and can lead to severe muscle spasms and death. Pertussis, which is also called “whooping cough,” causes severe coughing that makes it hard to breathe, eat and drink. It can lead to pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death. Having the child immunized when he or she is young, protects the child against these diseases for about 10 years. At that time they will need booster shots.
Polio: This vaccine helps prevent polio, which can cause muscle pain and paralysis of one of both legs or arms. It may also paralyze muscles needed to swallow and breathe. It can lead to death. The vaccine is given four times as a shot.
MMR: The MMR vaccine, given as two shots, protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Measles causes fever, rash, cough, runny nose and watery eyes and can cause ear infections and pneumonia. It can also lead to more serious problems, such as brain swelling and even death. Mumps causes fever, headache and painful swelling of one or both of the major saliva glands. Mumps can lead to meningitis, which is an infection of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord, and, very rarely, to brain swelling. Rubella, which is also called the German measles, causes slight fever, a rash and swelling of the glands in the neck. It can also cause brain swelling or a problem with bleeding. If a pregnant woman catches rubella, it can cause her to have a miscarriage or could cause severe congenital birth defects. Some people have suggested that the MMR vaccine causes autism. However, good research has shown that there is no link between autism and any childhood vaccinations.
Hib: The Hib vaccine helps prevent Haemophilus influenza type b, a leading cause of serious illness in children. It can lead to meningitis, pneumonia and a severe throat infection that can cause choking. The Hib vaccine is given as a series of three shots.
Chicken Pox (Varicella): The varicella vaccine helps prevent chickenpox. It is given to children once after they are 12 months old or to older children if they have never had chickenpox or been vaccinated. The varicella vaccine is given as a series of two shots.
Hepatitis B (HBV): The Hepatitis B (HBV) vaccine helps prevent hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, an infection of the liver that can lead to liver cancer and death. The vaccine is given as a series of four shots.
Pneumococal conjugate: The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) protects against a type of bacteria (pneumoccus) that is a common cause of ear infections. This type of bacteria can also cause more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia, meningitis and bacteremia (an infection in the blood stream). Infants and toddlers are given four doses of the vaccine. The vaccine may also be used in older children who are at risk for pneumococcal infection.